Some flew this path before

The crystal river flows south these days.  Winged ones swim from home and hearth toward winter vacations in warmer climes.  Some journey to the end of the river while others find respite along its shores.  I watch some dive in and leave, not to be seen again until next year; I watch others arrive from upstream who only stay until spring; and I see those who do not travel the winding path of the migration flow, but who instead live all year upon the banks we call home.

A male wood duck (Aix sponsa) in breeding plumage as he floats on still waters (2009_02_13_008550)

Unlike most birds, ducks molt twice per year: once in late summer to early autumn as they don their breeding plumage, then again in late spring to early summer as they dress in eclipse plumage.  This male wood duck (Aix sponsa) has just finished putting on his breeding best, and the result is what I consider to be the most beautiful duck plumage on the planet.  Though this species lives here all year, wood duck numbers grow dramatically in winter as northern populations move south.

Two juvenile ring-billed gulls (Larus delawarensis) arguing atop a light post (2009_02_13_008370)

Two juvenile ring-billed gulls (Larus delawarensis) disagree about how many birds can comfortably sit atop the light post.  Along with a variety of other gull and tern species, these birds spend winter here before returning to homes that don’t get as hot.  Only the interior least tern lives and breeds at White Rock Lake in summer, though many gull and tern species visit regularly; those numbers grow dramatically in winter.

An Eastern kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus) perched in a tree (2009_04_16_015208)

Eastern kingbirds (Tyrannus tyrannus) live and breed here, but as most other flycatchers do, they must head south in winter lest they starve for lack of food.  Yet even as innumerable insectivores like these move away, others fill the void—for our weather limits but does not prohibit insects in winter.

A clay-colored sparrow (Spizella pallida) sitting in an evergreen tree (2009_05_04_017996)

Clay-colored sparrows (Spizella pallida) stop only to grab a meal and some rest, then they wade back into the airborne river and swim southward.  For them, deep South Texas is as far north as they will stay in winter.  This one nibbled on evergreens with some friends before taking flight.

A female barn swallow (Hirundo rustica) standing on the side of a bridge (2009_05_04_018028)

This female barn swallow (Hirundo rustica) no doubt will return in spring to mate and nest.  Perhaps she will return to the same bridge where I found her, a footbridge under which barn swallows brood and raise young every year.  In spring they will fill the air with song and aerobatics.  For now, however, they drift on the currents that move steadily away, always toward warmth, a mass of life following autumn’s progression toward the spring that lies just beyond the equator.

A male common grackle (Quiscalus quiscula) rustling his feathers (2009_05_04_018317)

This male common grackle (Quiscalus quiscula) stood on the pier and rustled his feathers as if shaking off the gloomy prospect of migration.  This species is a yearlong resident, though populations further north move here in winter to escape the colder weather.  By December at least two grackle species will fill the mornings with noise and antics, hundreds of them perching along overhead wires at nearly every road intersection.  And when they move to find food, they move en masse in a boisterous cloud that would embarrass whole flocks of European starlings.

A western kingbird (Tyrannus verticalis) perched on a branch (2009_05_17_019847)

Like their eastern cousins, western kingbirds (Tyrannus verticalis) thrive in the warm months that provide bountiful invertebrates for flycatchers.  But the buffet dwindles as cooler weather prevails, hence the kingbirds take flight and join the army of life heading south.  They will be gone only until spring when autumn filters into the southern hemisphere.  I already miss their voices.

A female red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) perched in reeds (2009_05_31_020987)

Not a day goes by when I can’t see a red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus).  This female watching me soon will be joined by more of her kind who arrive on the crystal river and come ashore to overwinter with friends.  In the coming months these birds will fill every reed bed around the lake, a cacophony of life filling the dormant winter browns with vigorous antics and delightful song.  Many faces will join hers, and walks around White Rock Lake will proffer scenes like this multiplied a thousandfold.

[more migration photos coming]

6 thoughts on “Some flew this path before”

  1. I gasped at these. Superlative adjectives just don’t work.

    I can’t get within a mile of our wood ducks, they’re so skittish. However did you get that shot?

    Your eastern kingbird is SO handsome. I love the ruffled grackle feathers.

    I’m catching up on your photography posts now, hoping something will rub off. And reading about your equipment – I have to start saving to upgrade from my point ‘n’ shoot some day.

    Wonderful post!

  2. Great shots! I too love the contrast of the eastern kingbird against the muted background while the greenery makes his colors fairly pop.

    I wonder if momma blackbird thinks she’s just peeking while the rest of her is hidden.

  3. Thanks for the compliments! Glad you like the photos.

    Mom: I had the same thought about the blackbird when I took the photo (did she thought she was hiding). I doubt it, but it was a cute thought nonetheless.

    Jain: I’ve gotten pretty good at getting close to the wood ducks around here. Though I can’t always approach them, most of the time I can get close enough for good photos. It also helps to have a big lens handy just in case they don’t feel sociable.

  4. Hi Jason – your Wood Duck photo had me sucking in air, trying to catch my breath. He is so gorgeous, and I don’t know of a more beautiful duck. All of these birds are so beautiful, and you captured great images to share. I am looking forward to a weekend at home so that I can get outside for a day! Until then, your pics are the next best thing. 🙂

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